A new travelling exhibition aims to help pupils focus on the history that led to the concentration camps, writes Deborah Sacks. This month will see the opening of the first Holocaust education centre in Britain. The Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre has been set up by Stephen and James Smith, who decided to convert the Christian retreat they established in Nottinghamshire into a centre for Holocaust education and remembrance.
As a precursor to the opening of the Beth Shalom Centre, a mobile exhibition on the history of the Holocaust has been created for use in schools. The exhibition, "Another Time, Another Place", is aimed at secondary pupils and has been designed to complement the national curriculum.
Stephen Smith says: "The national curriculum provides for teaching about the Holocaust as part of the Second World War. The subject is so large, however, that teachers often end up talking about the suffering in the war in general. The exhibition is designed to assist in focusing on the Holocaust as a history in its own right."
The travelling exhibition, a smaller version of the permanent exhibition that will be housed at the centre, is highly illustrated and professionally produced in association with a local design studio. Researched by Stephen Smith, it uses material from a wide variety of sources, including Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Jerusalem, the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the archives at Auschwitz.
Familiar images of the Holocaust have been used deliberately to provide a handle for children to approach the subject. . Twenty large panels are organised into topics in a chronological framework. Interwoven is the story of Auschwitz survivor Kitty Hart, a friend of Mr Smith's. In 1939 she lived in Poland, attending a Catholic school, unaware of anti-Semitism until just before the outbreak of war.
The first four panels deal with the history of the Jews in Europe, describing the diverse nature of the Jewish community and showing Jews living as part of their societies. The following panels introduce the story of Kitty Hart and deal with Hitler's rise to power and the Third Reich. The exhibition then charts the Holocaust from ghettoisation to the Final Solution. The last boards deal with the liberation and the problems of survival, including British restrictions in Palestine and Kitty's experience in England. "There is a danger that the Holocaust is dealt with piecemeal," says Stephen Smith. "This exhibition aims to pull the strands together and create access to further areas of study."
A student worksheet, designed to accompany the exhibition, involves extracting information directly from the boards as well as some analysis. Schools can borrow a resource pack, tailored to their requirements, of videos that include survivor testimonies, as well as documentaries, cassettes, maps and teachers' guides. Ideally, an introductory assembly or talk would be given by a member of the Beth Shalom staff. In some areas, it may be possible to organise a seminar with a Holocaust survivor.
Last term, the exhibition was installed at Rufford School, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire, where it was used by GCSE and A-level history students and as part of a research project by 14- to 16-year-olds for GCSE Integrated Humanities. Deputy head Kate Reid says it was "particularly helpful for students who find research from books difficult. It is highly visual and the text is very accessible. The resource materials were excellent and included something for all levels". Although the exhibition was there for the whole school to look at, it was not specifically used with younger children. However, Kate Reid feels that with the right introduction it could be.
The Beth Shalom Centre hopes to produce five copies of the exhibition to cope with the anticipated demand. Each copy costs Pounds 10,000 to produce, and it is looking for sponsors.
"Another Time, Another Place" can be borrowed by schools for one week for a contribution of Pounds 25 towards the cost of installation. A room of at least 5 metres square is required. For more information, contact Stephen Smith at Beth Shalom, Holocaust Memorial Centre, Laxton, Newark, Nottinghamshire NG22 0PA. Tel: 01623 836627